Wagons pulled by a twenty-mule hitch traversing across rugged terrain flanked by horse-mounted cowboys doesn’t immediately conjure up images of America in the late 1960s — but was in fact the reality of Wessington Springs resident Kenneth (Tiny) Gohring during a fantastic adventure documented in the book, “Trail of the Jackasses” by Bob Wakefield.
Gohring is introduced in chapter three of the book written about the unusual and colorful adventure that documents the journey of a twenty-mule jerkline team’s passage from Death Valley, Calif. to Wessington SD:
The next piece of the puzzle — now that the foreman and mule skinner were committed — was the addition of an out rider. His name was Tiny Gohring, a tough cowboy of north European stock, blonde and flinty from years of stock handling. His blue eyes were framed in a tan visage and they looked at you steadily as he considered every movement.
“They kind of flattered me,” Gohring said with a sparkle in his eye. “I did grow up with horses and rode a lot of horses for people, so I can see why I was asked to go.”
The man who dreamt up the plan to traverse across America with a 20-mule team was Jean DeHaven, a cousin by marriage to Gohring. At that time, Gohring was working at a gas station and the idea appealed to him.
“The deal was, you didn’t get paid until you got home,” he said. “We ended up not getting paid what we were promised but it’s still worth it. I’ll take the adventure in place of what we didn’t get.”
One of the first jobs at hand was to find mules, which turned out to be a bit of a challenge. Gohring explained that most of the mules ended up coming from Bristow, Virgina.
“The little white mules were purchased at Sioux Falls Stock Yards and we drove them from Sioux Falls to Wessington,” he said, explaining that he “jumped in” at DeSmet and helped drive them the rest of the way. “I rode point in town, in front by the two little white mules, one of them named Judy. There was the jerkline from Judy’s bit back to the muleskinner — you jerk it once she goes left, twice, she goes right. She followed me.”